Thursday, January 24, 2008

Guest in Progress: Judy Leaver

I met Judy Leaver through the DC Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (the first WNBA!), which is a fabulous networking group that has introduced me to a lot of wonderful people. (You can join, too—yes, men, too!—and start meeting some of these wonderful people as well. More info is here, and there are WNBA chapters in other cities if you don’t live in the DC area.) Do be sure to read Judy’s bio below: she has carved out for herself a remarkable and bold life of change and choice.

I am grateful that she has offered to debut here her poem about the writing process. What she alludes to is not always a pleasant part of the process, but one that for most of us, must be contended with. How do we ever get over that feeling of “not good enough”? Many writers think that publication will solve that problem: “If my book/story/poem is published, I’ll vanquish those fears.” In my experience, publication may nudge aside those fears momentarily, but it’s not really a solution.

In many ways, writing my second book (A Year and a Day) was made even more difficult because of the publication of my first (Pears on a Willow Tree). The mental anguish sounded like this: How can I live up to that novel? When will they realize it was a mistake to have published that book? I can never write anything like that again, can I? What if no one likes this one? And so on…no doubt you’re familiar with those dark-of-the-night thoughts that haunt so many writers, whether they come from ourselves or they're voices we've heard externally for all our lives.

Don’t get me wrong…having work published is very, very nice! It’s just that being a “published author” does not solve every issue in your life; whatever you have achieved, you will want more (even if you think you won’t, I’m pretty sure you will): writers in the Best American Short Stories collection want a National Book Award; writers with National Book Awards long for Pulitzers; writers with Pulitzers ache for a Nobel; and I suspect those Nobel winners want something too…immortality? To be Shakespeare? More readers? The only end is to accept as best you can that the reward must be in the process, in the writing: in the craft and art of what you are creating.

Here’s Judy’s thoughtful poem:

Hiding My Light

I hide my light
under a bushel of
relentless editor
chirping in my ear
in mean harmony with
critical-mother tapes
that grind holes in
my courage, and
clucking, head-shaking
drill-sergeant teachers
who think they know
I’ll not amount to much,
so they gnaw inside
my gut like rodents
plowing their way
through pink insulation
to let the cold seep in
and freeze my words.
~~Judy Leaver

About: Judy Leaver has been freelancing as a writer since September of 2000. Following a 20-year career in social work and human services, she traded pantyhose for sweats, deadly staff meetings for purring cats, and a predictable paycheck for one that is more elusive. She works from her light-filled living room overlooking Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill and writes almost anything people will pay her to write.

Her creative writing includes poetry, essays, short stories, and untold vignettes and snippets that still may morph into a great American novel. She has participated in a writing group that is twelve years strong, and in the spring of 2004 was selected to participate in the Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop at George Washington University, under the tutelage of poet Rick Barot. Her nonfiction has been published in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. More information on Judy can be found at her web site.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.